This week I speak to Scottish entrepreneur and mum, Cheryl MacDonald. Cheryl has rapidly grown her franchise business globally. From humble beginnings teaching yoga in her bedroom to running a global franchise we sit down and see how she did it.
Hi Cheryl, please give me a bit of background to yourself:
I’m 34 years old living in Glasgow with my husband and four year old son, Caelen. I’ve been practising yoga for seventeen years and always loved the feeling of calm and strength it gives me. I developed an interest in it while studying for a Bachelor of Arts Honours Degree at the University of Strathclyde. After teaching yoga in my bedroom and living room I took YogaBellies to the next level and am now directing teachers who have signed up as franchisees across the UK and in seven other countries. After launching in 2008 we now have 108 franchises all over the world!
Now you were made redundant at your previous job, what were your first thoughts when that happened?
It’s never easy being made redundant and it came as a huge shock but I think it was actually a blessing in disguise… I’d been working long hours and then teaching yoga in the evenings which wasn’t helping me get a steady, balanced life with my family. I was able to use the skills I’d learned as a marketing manager to really kick start YogaBellies and accumulate a good number of franchisees.
Tell me about YogaBellies:
YogaBellies offers authentic classes, therapies and workshops for women and children at every stage of their lives including pregnancy and birth; for post-partum mum and baby and now also, yoga for children. YogaBellies sessions incorporate a range of authentic yogic and holistic techniques which create a unique experience for our clients. The classes are entirely unique and our class formula means that 86% of our class attendees have never set foot in a yoga class before. We make sure our classes are non-scary, non-threatening, welcoming and open to all levels of practitioner so that yoga is accessible to everyone.
What was the biggest challenge you faced when you started?
I became so obsessed with the business that I found it really hard to switch off. When speaking to new franchisees I make sure they book time off and plan holidays. You can become very wrapped up in work and need to make time for family and friends too. Space was also an issue, I had to turn my living room into a studio before renting out a church hall and then finally moving into a rented studio which is now our office.
You appeared on Dragons’ Den where you won investment from Duncan Bannatyne, before turning it down. How did this come about?
Although I’d started several franchises at this stage I knew I needed a better business brain to get YogaBellies to the next step. I went on to Dragons’ Den with my husband and pregnant YogaBellies teacher Sophie Keil, and wowed the Dragons using our unique yogic techniques and was successful in receiving an offer of £50,000 for 35% of the company from Duncan Bannatyne. At the time I said yes but later decided to decline the offer as we didn’t really need the money but rather a mentor and Duncan puts in a lot of time and effort with his own business and I wasn’t sure if he would be able to give us the time we needed. I was very grateful for the offer but I also thought that we are a community of women and I wasn’t sure that having a man being our business mentor would be the right thing for us in the end.
What was it like going through a TV show to raise investment?
Very scary but great fun! It took months of preparation to get all our facts and figures ready before appearing in front of the Dragons. You definitely don’t want to mess up in front of them! Despite declining the offer it raised a lot of awareness for the YogaBellies brand.
What is the business model?
The business had to fit around my family life and I knew this was my main goal when starting YogaBellies. I knew most of my franchisees would also have their own families so I wanted this to create flexibility for them. As well as being a job, this was about supporting women throughout every stage of their life.
From a business and a yoga perspective, now that YogaBellies is established and thriving, it’s important for me to find the right people to build their own YogaBellies classes and business across the country. I need to know that they are committed to helping other women and that they are joining our Sangha (community) for the right reasons. I work very closely with my franchisees and have regular conversations with each of them. That is a thing that is very special about YogaBellies and makes us stand out from other franchises; we are a community of women that help each other out and I support them every step of the way.
How did you get your first few customers?
Apart from teaching family and friends to start with I actually placed a small advert on Gumtree which really helped!
What has growth been like since beginning YogaBellies and what do you feel was key to your growth?
The growth of YogaBellies has been phenomenal. When I look back to when I was teaching two people in my spare bedroom I can’t believe how far we have come. I now have 108 franchises across the whole of the UK and in Dubai, Sweden, Cyprus and Korea. We’re always expanding in size but also in the variety of classes we teach. Our latest is AquaBumps where Mums to be can practice yoga in water to calm and relax the body.
What advice would you give to any aspiring entrepreneurs?
- Go for it and take the leap!
- Never look back.
- Ask for advice from families and friends
How did you manage running a business full time and being a mum? And did you feel that looking after a child actually helped you when running your own business?
This was exactly why I started YogaBellies, to spend as much time as possible with my son whilst also earning money. Over half the women who have franchises with YogaBellies have families and were made redundant from their previous jobs. When going to meetings my son always comes with me otherwise I would never get anything done! I used to take him to classes when he was tiny and use him as my baby yoga demo doll. When I first started teaching again when Caelen was just born, I'd put him to bed and take the baby monitor and teach classes in the spare bedroom next door. If I didn’t have a child I wouldn’t understand what my customers were going through so it certainly helps me connect with them on an emotional level.
Great, thanks Cheryl, how can people get in touch or find out more?
Women interested in becoming a YogaBellies franchisee can visit www.yogabellies.co.uk, request a prospectus pack and have a quick phone chat with our recruitment co-ordinator, Jo, who will help you figure out whether this is the perfect career for you.
If you wanted to see Cheryl's pitch to the Dragons I have included it below: